LANGLEY, B.C. -- A unique program designed to relieve stress and improve mental health is being offered for front-line and essential workers.

The Valley Therapeutic Equestrian Association in Langley is now offering the Front Line Heroes Program, which features a one-hour horse therapy session.

Association director Lynn Moseley told CTV News Vancouver the program is meant to deliver “an hour of peace and relaxation.”

“We deal with clients and riders that have anxiety and depression all the time, so why can’t we help these front-line workers? So that’s what we set about to do,” she said. “It speaks to people on an emotional, physical level. It’s just something to behold. It’s incredible.”

The experience involves learning about grooming, after which participants can choose to ride their horse in an indoor arena or outdoors on nearby trails. Moseley said people can also elect to lead their horse through “ground work” instead of riding, which she said is similar to a dog agility course, without the tunnels.

“We can tailor it to the individual,” Moseley said.

People can also nominate a worker by filling out an online form, or donate online to help cover the cost of the $60 session for someone.

Community health nurse Alicia Gillard got a chance to test out the program before it launched.

“I just left feeling so incredibly happy, just happy,” she said.

Gillard was paired with a horse named Rosie. She said she hasn’t had a lot of experience with horses, other than group excursions when on vacation.

“I think I spent more time wanting to pet her and feed her than actually ride her; I was just so excited to be around her,” Gillard said. “She kept doing this weird little sigh, every time I’d pet her, and they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s so soothed by what you’re doing,’ and it made me want to hug her and be like, ‘I love you Rosie.’”

The pandemic has been especially stressful for Gillard’s family. Her husband, a music therapist who underwent treatment for cancer during Gillard’s maternity leave, lost his job. He’s now at home with their 18-month-old son, and Gillard said he encouraged her to go to the therapy session.

“I would definitely go again, if I can,” Gillard said. “It was magical. It really did feel that way.”

Moseley said a psychiatric nurse who has been distancing from her family and friends due to her job was recently nominated by her mother.

“She hasn’t had that person to hug, to come home to, and unload some of that stress,” Moseley said.

The association is also offering to help other therapy barns across Canada create this kind of program for themselves.

“We’ve offered our assistance in terms of our learning, so that they don’t have to recreate the wheel, and they can get up and running as fast as possible,” Moseley said.

The association has been operating for 37 years, offering therapeutic sessions for all kinds of riders, including people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and epilepsy.

In March, the association had to close down due to the pandemic, laying off staff other than those providing essential care for horses. The facility just reopened for limited sessions last week, incorporating a number of precautions, including masks.

“This week was huge,” Moseley said. “It was emotional. We were really happy, and just working as hard as we can on making sure that everyone’s going to be safe and we can continue to bring riders back.”

She added people shouldn’t be discouraged from giving the new front-line program a try, even if they can’t see themselves working with horses.

“Don’t let that be a barrier for you to come and get an hour of peace and stress release, because it is a very magical process and it happens so naturally with horses,” Moseley said.